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Faculty should keep both terms of pass/no-record

The pass/no-record grading system should be kept a mandatory part of the freshman year because it is integral to the adjustment process and is necessary for future success at MIT. Many problems with the freshman year hurt freshmen more than the "lack of grade incentive." The present proposal to eliminate second-term pass/no-record does not even address these problems.

Many of us came to MIT thrilled with the idea of studying at the best science and engineering school in the country. We wanted to learn. We then encountered ignorant advisors, giant and tedious freshman classes, teaching assistants unable to communicate in English, and, above all, a cold, impersonal Institute. Many of us were disillusioned -- not because of pass/no-record and not because we were not allowed to compete with our classmates. But because we found that learning had lost its excitement. Instead of an intellectually stimulating environment, we faced a machine whose purpose was to crank out engineers. We now find ourselves bogged down in a mad dash to graduate with some semblance of sanity.

At this point, it is clear that the majority of students support the retention of second-term pass/no-record. In the recent undergraduate referendum, 77 percent (1160) of students agreed that pass/no-record had a positive effect on their MIT experience. Only 13 percent (192) disagreed. In a separate question, less than 10 percent supported the Committee on the First-Year Program proposal as it then stood. At the last faculty meeting, 75-100 students showed their support for pass/no-record. They sat patiently for three hours, many holding "P/F" signs, until the faculty finally decided to postpone the vote until this Wednesday.

Despite this support, many faculty members seem to have mistakenly assumed that students favor efforts to eliminate pass/no-record. At an East Campus forum in late February, Professor Kenneth R. Manning, chairman of the CFYP, insisted that most students felt they had been ill-served by pass/no-record. When the room full of students emphatically told him that his impressions were wrong, he claimed the students were a self-selected group, unrepresentative of the majority. He went on to say his major objection to pass/no-record was that it seemed to serve a purpose of "masking poor performance" rather than helping students.

Manning and the other members of the CFYP who formulated this proposal have missed the point. Let us address the underlying problems we can identify first. Let us not support a "quick fix" that gives an illusion of educational reform instead of a commitment to do anything more than blame students for the flaws in the freshman year.

Stacy Segal '90->

Dave Atkins '90->

David Carroll '91->